Who in their right mind goes to school on a Saturday? It’s a great question, with an even better answer: one Saturday a month, nearly 60 high school students from the Seattle and Mukilteo school districts take over the University of Washington campus to immerse themselves in Marine Biology.

The Seattle MESA Saturday Academy is an enrichment program that lets students explore an area of math, engineering, or science that doesn’t get a lot of coverage at their high school. Students learn from UW faculty and experience what it’s like to be in a college classroom or laboratory. They can expect a lot of hands-on opportunities, ranging from dissecting sharks, to learning how aquarium staff train marine mammals like seals. While students come to the program with an interest in Marine Biology, they also have the opportunity to learn about the college application process.

In 2013, Saturday Academy in Marine Biology launched with 25 students. Dr. Kristi Strauss led the course, which showed students the many careers available to them in marine biology. They met staff from the Seattle Aquarium, an Alaskan fisheries manager, a sustainable sushi chef, and a variety of researchers at the University. Another favorite activity was the chance to explore Puget Sound, sailing onboard a research vessel.

The program was very popular. About 90 students applied the first time and the 60 participants were chosen based upon their GPA, input from their teachers, the number of math and science courses they had taken, and their previous involvement with other Seattle MESA opportunities. For the 2014-2015 academic year, the program will expand, with both Introductory and Advanced sections. The Introductory students focus on exploring marine biology and the possible professions in the field; the Advanced students are diving deeper into research, and will do their own projects.

“Students are getting a wonderful sneak-peek of what college students experience,” says Dr. Thomas Pool, the instructor for the introductory class. “They are pushed to learn challenging content and then display what they have learned through discussions and hands-on learning activities. And they have some freedom to follow their own interests within the marine sciences!”

The program is completely free for students; transportation is provided for anyone who needs it, lunch and snacks are provided, and all supplies are covered by the program.

Seattle MESA plans to launch a Saturday Academy around a new discipline, such as computer science. If you’re interested in participating as a student, we urge you to apply. If you’d like to get involved as a volunteer (no expertise is needed!), please contact Leah Quinn at leahq@uw.edu.